For a generation that was raised on the glossy, seemingly scripted confessionals in reality TV shows, we’re in need of a serious reality check. Enter The Succulent Six, a new original Canadian series debuting next week on Feb. 27 that follows five women and a rotating roster of high-profile body-image activists, including music producer Chris Blair and style blogger Lisa Schoenberger (a.k.a. MustangSallyTwo). Together, they take on missions to smash stereotypes—everything ranging from speed dating to posing nude for drawing classes—while pushing themselves outside their comfort zones. It’s all the name of championing body love, and far from the contrived heroes and villains of reality TV, this group of friends is genuinely likeable (much like the new Fab Five from Queer Eye).
The squad is made up of five women from Toronto: triple threat Steff ‘Ivory’ Conover, a singer, actor and model; plus model Ashley Sharman; designer and blogger Annika Reid; burlesque entertainer Belle Jumelles and retired NCAA basketball player Rachel Marcus. Each episode, they invite a special guest star (like body image activist Ama Scriver, who appears in the first episode) to be their honorary sixth member. Inviting a new member to join them each episode keeps each mission feeling fresh and adds to the growing conversation of what makes us all worthy of self-love.
How the series took shape
Ivory, the ringleader of what she affectionately calls the “group of misfits,” assembled the original six members of the Succulent Six two years ago. They came up with the name because of a shared love of alliteration—the subtle nod to the group’s hometown Toronto was coincidental. They group quickly made a name for itself on Instagram feeds around the world after the posed together for a tea party-themed photo shoot ahead of International No Diet Day. Their message was bold: “Stop the food fight. For just one day—stop the brow beating, fat shaming and self deprecation that women (and men) face day in and day out.” The photo went viral, reaching as far as Thailand and Bolivia. And it caught the attention of Anna Wasylenki, vice president of development at General Purpose Entertainment, who reached out after seeing the viral campaign photos. “When we saw how far and wide it reached, we decided we needed to do more,” says Ivory. So the Succulent Six played around with the idea of developing a list of missions they could take on to promote self-acceptance. And with that, the show was born.
There were a few hiccups along the way to the show’s debut—one member cut ties from the group to focus on family—so they decided to introduce an honorary sixth member each episode. “So many people reached out to tell us they wanted to join our group of six—this felt like the was a perfect way for us to make that happen,” says Ivory.
Why you’ll want to watch
With the exception of a few notable characters on mainstream TV, we don’t often see a show driven by plus-size women. And that makes The Succulent Six so refreshing, because it gives viewers a chance to see different forms of happiness, success and power in the world.
It’s also real and raw—the way reality TV should be. Nothing is sugar-coated. There are no filters. The same goes for special lighting. “This kind of realness is what’s going to help make changes in the media,” says Sharman. A full-time model, she doesn’t hesitate to point out that she had some real discomforts while filming, especially when it came to baring it all. “But thinking back on the struggles we had growing up, and all the pressure and stereotypes we’ve had to face, I had to do it for the greater good.”
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t prettying up or glossing over the bad bits,” says Ivory. “Sharing my uncomfortable bits have actually saved me from them, because it takes away that fear. It empowers you.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be reality TV without some tension, and the show lays bare all the painful realities of what it’s really like to confront your own internal struggles. Imagine participating in a team sport you’ve always avoided. Imagine getting naked in front of strangers? Now imagine doing all that on TV. It doesn’t get more real than that. The series also gives us an inside look at conflicts within the group itself, which makes it all the more rewarding to see them come together to complete their missions as a team at the end of each episode. While the show is certainly formulaic in this respect, producer Wasylenki says the way each episode’s mission comes together is completely organic—and the dialogue is totally unscripted.
The series certainly couldn’t be timelier. “It’s the perfect time for these girls to come on the scene and add body positivity to the conversation,” says Wasylenki, who points to the larger cultural moment we’re experiencing where women are empowering each other more and more to speak out about the issues affecting them most.
Ivory only wishes she had seen women on TV that look like herself sooner. Having dealt with depression since she was 13, she says a show like this could have changed her life years ago. She encourages people not to hide behind what society says they can or can’t do, and hopes the series will empower others to live their best lives.
“If we can make a small impact on one person and teach them not to battle with themselves, then we’re doing the right thing,” says Ivory. “Every body deserves love.”